Krugman, High Unemployment and the Bad Boss

In a recent New York Times Op Ed, Paul Krugman explains why a high rate of unemployment can make it rough for many employed workers, too. If there aren’t any other good jobs available, quitting your current job to look for better work just isn’t an option. Simply put, you may be stuck in a job you hate.

You may want to quit your job because you don’t like the work, or the pay is too low, or the hours are too long, or the commute is intolerable. But, in all likelihood, the number one reason you hate your job is because you have a bad boss.

And that’s where the other unintended spillover effect of high unemployment comes into play. Your boss can be abusive to you and get away with it. Even if he was a bad boss when alternative jobs were plentiful, he can be a worse boss now that they’re scarce.

Bad bosses are bad in subtle ways

Sure, if your boss is abusive in an obvious, illegal way, you might quit even if no job is waiting. But most bad bosses are bad in subtle ways. A bad boss can give you conflicting instructions. He can ignore you. He can embarrass you. He can take credit for your work. He can rate your performance unfairly. He can undermine you. The ways of a bad boss are endless.

It’s not just that the bad boss knows that you’re stuck, or that if you leave, you’ll be easily replaceable. When the unemployment rate is high but your company is doing well, it has little motivation to rein in your bad boss, to monitor him, to discipline him, or to replace him. A high unemployment rate confers even more power to your bad boss.

Why not complain to Human Resources?

So if your boss is bad, can’t you complain to Human Resources? The plain fact is that most HR professionals are squarely on the side of the boss. Even if your HR representative agrees that your boss is bad, he will gain the ire of senior management if he upsets the balance of power. In fact, the higher the unemployment rate, the more that your company’s HR reps will align with management. After all, they’re employees, just like you. And they’re stuck, too.

If you have a bad boss, what can you do?

If you’re an employee with a bad boss, and quitting is not an option, what can you do? The short answer is: you must protect yourself.

First, you must understand your legal rights. Some actions of your boss are just bad management, which is not illegal in itself. But other actions may be illegal. You need to know the difference so that you can frame your case correctly.

Second, you need to observe how your boss treats your co-workers. You need to look for patterns of abusive behavior toward many employees. Going one step further, you need to look for company policies that promote or tolerate your bad boss’ misconduct. That way, your problems cannot be blamed on you.

Finally, once you’ve gathered the evidence that points the finger at your bad boss, and not at you, it’s time to persuade someone at the top to correct the situation. You can convince someone higher up if you have facts, not just feelings or opinions. Facts are powerful. Multiple concrete examples of abusive conduct directed at many subordinates are powerful.

Whether the unemployment rate is high or low, your company doesn’t want to risk damage to its reputation, and it doesn’t want legal problems. Your company will act against a bad boss if it perceives a major risk in failing to act.

Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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